A high-profile researcher at the Universidad de Oviedo in Spain has retracted eight papers from the Journal of Biological Chemistry for figure issues.
All of the papers were co-authored by Carlos López-Otín, who studies a group of enzymes that break down proteins, cancer genomics and aging, and whose lab web site boasts that
His works have been collected in more than 400 articles in international journals and have been cited to date more than 44.000 times, with an aggregate Hirsch index of h=100.
This article has been withdrawn by the authors upon request from the Journal. The Journal raised questions regarding Fig. 4, A and B. The authors were able to locate the original autoradiographs corresponding to Fig. 4A, detecting two duplicated GAPDH control bands. In Fig. 4B, an actin lane appears to be duplicated. Since the original data for the experiment shown in Fig. 4B, performed 13 years ago, could not be found, the authors state that a new experiment was performed using RNA from mouse testis from different ages (10–74 days). The authors state that the AP-O expression results concur with an RNA-seq–based transcriptomic analysis reported independently by other researchers (Margolin et al. (2014) BMC Genomics 15, 39). The authors assert that all of the results reported in this article are valid.
López-Otín told Retraction Watch that
those articles contained some faults in specific panels that did not affect any of the conclusions of the study. We were not aware of the existence of those errors until the journal contacted us. When we realized about these issues, we sent the journal the original images, showing that the original data fully supported the results presented in those figures. In some cases in which original data was not available, as most articles were published more than 14 years ago, our lab repeated those experiments, obtaining the same results.
López-Otín’s team asked for a correction, but the JBC said that wouldn’t be sufficient:
Therefore, we acknowledged those mistakes for which we feel embarrassed, and even though they affected minor figure panels, with no effect on the main message of the article, we requested the journal to publish a correction. Unfortunately, when dealing with these issues, JBC does not take into account whether the study is valid or whether it had been reproduced by the authors or other groups, and they requested from us to withdraw the articles.
López-Otín told us that “there are no more questioned articles.”
The eight papers, which were originally published between 2000 and 2007, are:
- Dm1-MMP, a matrix metalloproteinase from Drosophila with a potential role in extracellular matrix remodeling during neural development, cited 90 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science
- Identification, Characterization, and Intracellular Processing of ADAM-TS12, a Novel Human Disintegrin with a Complex Structural Organization Involving Multiple Thrombospondin-1 Repeats, cited 70 times
- Matriptase-2, a membrane-bound mosaic serine proteinase predominantly expressed in human liver and showing degrading activity against extracellular matrix proteins, cited 142 times
- Human autophagins, a family of cysteine proteinases potentially implicated in cell degradation by autophagy, cited 155 times
- Identification and characterization of human and mouse ovastacin: A novel metalloproteinase similar to hatching enzymes from arthropods, birds, amphibians, and fish, cited 58 times
- “Identification of human aminopeptidase O, a novel metalloprotease with structural similarity to aminopeptidase B and leukotriene A4 hydrolase,” cited 28 times
- Identification and characterization of human archaemetzincin-1 and -2, two novel members of a family of metalloproteases widely distributed in Archaea, cited 21 times
- Tissue-specific autophagy alterations and increased tumorigenesis in mice deficient in Atg4C/autophagin-3, cited 274 times
López-Otín tells us:
These studies described the identification of novel protease-coding genes, and their preliminary characterization as proteolytic enzymes. There is no doubt in the scientific community that these human genes exist and have the nucleotide and amino acid sequences we had reported in these articles, that they are expressed in the tissues we showed, and that they constitute proteolytic enzymes. Therefore, the findings reported in these articles have been widely validated by the scientific community, with more than 800 citations altogether.
Does López-Otín think the retractions were warranted?
[I]f the results reported in an article are true, the experiments can be reproduced, and the findings have been validated by the scientific community, a retraction is harmful both for Science and for the scientists. Should a correction have been published: no doubt about it. The articles are very old, the results validated, but if a mistake is found and it can be corrected, we the authors are the first ones to have an interest in fixing any error that might be present in our publications.
Another of López-Otín’s papers, this one in Nature Cell Biology, was retracted last month:
We, the authors, are retracting this Article due to issues that have come to our attention regarding data availability, data description and figure assembly. Specifically, original numerical data are not available for the majority of the graphs presented in the paper. Although original data were available for most EMSA and immunoblot experiments, those corresponding to the published EMSA data of Supplementary Fig. 8a, the independent replicate immunoblots of Fig. 8b and Supplementary Fig. 1e, and the independent replicate EMSA data of Supplementary Figs 6e, 8b, 8c and 8d, are unavailable. Mistakes were detected in the presentation of Figs 3c, 4i and Supplementary Figs 6a, 8a, 8d, 9, and in some cases the β-actin immunoblots were erroneously described in the figure legends as loading controls, rather than as sample processing controls that were run on separate gels. Although we, the authors, believe that the key findings of the paper are still valid, given the issues with data availability we have concluded that the most appropriate course of action is to retract the Article. We deeply regret these errors and apologize to the scientific community for any confusion this publication may have caused. All authors agree with the retraction.
One of the authors of that paper, George Q. Daley, is now dean of Harvard Medical School. The paper has been cited 53 times.
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